Paulo von Vacano in conversation with Marco Imarisio, journalist and author of the book Le strade parlano. Una storia d’Italia scritta sui muri (The streets speak. A history of Italy written on the walls).
In the age of social media, the streets continue to talk to us […] Street art can be a new compass to understand contemporary history, to reduce the facts and trends of our society to the essential.
How do you differentiate between graffiti and Street Art, and where does one begin and the other one end?
I would like to start by saying that I am speaking as a layman, one who has ventured into this art form with a lot of respect, curiosity and I hope also humility. Having said this, I think that the difference between these two movements is becoming increasingly marked. Whilst Graffiti writing and the tags culture are in some way the grandfathers of Street Art, the latter has now become a completely independent form of art, with ever more complex artistic elaborations. Not everybody appreciates this divergence from graffiti culture, and some people rightly say that Street Art is loosing its spontaneity and is moving away from its social and political roots. But this is where it’s heading.
What is the background to this book?
It is born out of a passion for Street Art. Mine, which is somewhat impromptu, and Christian Gang’s, a distinguished figure in the “other” Milanese culture and artistic curator of the book. We hoped to marry Street Art and journalism, telling Italy’s last thirty years of history, through images and words. It is not intended to be exhaustive, but it demonstrates how Street Art images are at times able to summarize extremely well the essence of a story, thanks to the absolute freedom in their storytelling, capturing the spirit of the time.
Can you name an artwork that you are particularly close to and explain why?
Without a doubt, it’s Triumphs and Laments by William Kentridge on the embankments of the Tiber river in Rome, inspired by the history of the city, ancient and modern (see the section on the Renault 4 of Aldo Moro – an anti-mafia investigator that was blown up…). What struck me the most was the technique he used: the selective use of a pressure washer, with which he removed the grime that had accumulated over time to create his images. I thought it was genius, and with incredible results.
When does Street Art become vandalism? How do you distinguish a piece of artwork from a scribble on the wall?
This is a big topic. And anyway the reasoning behind Public Decency is pitiful, since it never distinguishes between real artworks and scribbles.
What do you think allows the inhabitants of an area to accept Street Art artwork instead of rejecting it?
Good question, I’m afraid that sometimes it is just a question of convenience or habit. Street Art is considered an adornment, rather than something that is fundamentally part of the urban landscape like a statue or some other type of artwork or monument. This is sadly the truth, confirmed by facts.
Where do you think Street Art is heading?
Let’s revisit the first question: we will have two types of Street Art. One that will become increasingly mainstream and artistic, and another that will remain tied to its roots, a combat art. Two Street Arts, not one. And maybe it’s better this way, it removes any ambiguities.
What do you think about “urban redevelopment”? Do you think that Street Art can really improve the quality of life in a specific area?
I certainly don’t intend to go against Dostoevskij, but I am not convinced that Street Art’s beauty will save the world. Not as an only attribute anyway. Sure it can help bring fame to a place, give it purpose, like it has happened in certain areas of South Italy. But that alone is not enough.